The Speaker plays an important role both inside and outside the Chamber and must fulfil this role without bias to any political party.
The Speaker speaks for the House to the Crown, chairs meetings in the House, chairs three select committees, acts as landlord for Parliament’s buildings, and represents the House to international and other important visitors.
The Speaker is the spokesperson for the House on ceremonial and formal occasions, for example, when an address is presented to the Crown. The ceremonial part of the role adds considerable dignity to the proceedings of the House.
Chairing meetings of the House
The main visible function of the Speaker is to chair meetings of the House and to rule on procedure.
The Speaker chooses who will be invited to speak in debates so that business is conducted in an orderly way. To do this fairly, the Speaker must balance the interests and demands of members from all political parties, before deciding who will be invited to speak next.
The Speaker must also decide on matters of procedure. For example, the Speaker must decide when an application for emergency debate is appropriate, or whether to allow an urgent question, or a complaint about breach of privilege.
Maintaining order in the House
In addition to calling who will speak next, the Speaker is often asked to decide ‘points of order’. This is when a member asks whether the rules of the House (Standing Orders) are being observed correctly.
Chairing select committees
The Speaker chairs three select committees.
- Business Committee
- Standing Orders Committee
- Officers of Parliament Committee
The first two of these committees deal with procedural matters. The third recommends the supply of funds for the offices of the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and the Ombudsman.
The Speaker also chairs the Parliamentary Service Commission, which is responsible for the administrative support that members require.
Representing the House
All of Tonga’s relations with other parliaments are carried out through the Speaker’s office. It is usual for delegations from other parliaments and ambassadors to call on the Speaker. The Speaker also assists our parliamentarians when they visit other parliaments.